The Colombian media insist on defining you as a “Colombian businessman”, while Venezuela recognizes you as a citizen (agent and diplomat) of that country. Why this differentiation?
Alex Saab: I am very proud of my Barranquillero and Lebanese/Palestinian origins. In Colombia I had one of the largest fashion clothing businesses with over 300 stores throughout the country and a portfolio of investments in real estate. It is, however, in Venezuela where, with the help of God, I have been able to establish my most significant business initiatives and build them to a size where I am able to make a difference. I am also very grateful to Presidents Chavez and Maduro and to the Venezuelan people for giving me the opportunities that have been presented to me since 2000.
Starting with construction, I have been able to demonstrate that I can deliver important projects on time and within budget. The extraterritorial judicial overreach for political reasons by the United States and the consequent economic blockade of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela have meant that many companies that would have been happy to do business with Venezuela have been forced to withdraw from business initiatives in the country.
This has made it necessary to seek domestic solutions to create new supply chains, logistics, financing and commercial relationships, often with companies and countries that historically would have been left out of the Venezuelan market due to the presence of U.S. companies. This was especially true in the food, pharmaceutical and consumer goods sectors. The experience my partners and I gained while managing and organizing the logistics involved in a major social housing contract (which began in 2011) was recognized by President Maduro’s government and we were awarded our first contract to become a supplier to the government’s social welfare food program in 2015. I am pleased to indicate that, once again, we were able to deliver on time and on budget.
I built on that initial success and today, while I am not (contrary to some media’s unfounded accusations) the only supplier to the social welfare program, I am certainly one of the largest.
I currently employ 100,000 people in Venezuela in various businesses which I have developed as an entrepreneur.
I was honoured and humbled to be appointed Special Envoy of the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela in April 2018 to continue collaborating in the supply and provision of basic foodstuffs and medicines. This is a role which has taken on greater importance since the onset of the covid-19 epidemic. As I said earlier, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has been under political and economic attack for many years. One of the reasons for my appointment was precise to counter this threat and to provide me with immunity and inviolability to travel and negotiate freely on behalf of the Republic, just as diplomatic agents have done for centuries.
Those who want to attack me and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela should first, inform themselves and understand the reality of being the target of an unprecedented judicial overreach for political reasons before making ill-informed comments. They should understand the reality of the economic blockade and its impact on the lives of the decent people of Venezuela. They should learn how this has caused a massive increase in transportation, insurance and other logistical costs. None of this is mentioned because the tabloid press and pseudo-news websites lure readers by selling sensational stories of corruption and predatory pricing instead of worrying about the details of insurance costs or the availability of cargo ships that are not threatened with sanctions by the United States.
So, yes, I am a proud son of Barranquilla, and the proud son of Lebanese and Palestinian immigrants, yet I am just as proud and honoured to be a Venezuelan citizen, who has been able to give back to the country and the people who have given me so much.
What is your relationship with the Venezuelan government and its president?
Alex Saab: As I have already said, my diplomatic appointments and recognition by President Maduro make his enemies think that I could be a conduit to help defeat him.
I repeat that my relationship with President Maduro and his government is based upon a proven ability to help meet the basic needs of the people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. My partners and I have worked diligently at all times whilst being conscious of the responsibility with which we have been entrusted.
I hope that the fact that I was appointed a Special Envoy in 2018 and, more recently given the additional responsibility of Deputy Permanent Representative to the African Union reflect that I am fulfilling the tasks assigned to me in a manner which is appreciated by President and his colleagues.
Do you consider that you are being targeted for political purposes? Why?
Alex Saab: Of course, I am not the real target.
The objective of the politically motivated judicial overreach of the United States and some of its regional cronies is to weaken President Maduro and his administration by attempting to use me to extract “information” to be used against him. The use of the so-called Lawfare, judicial proceedings for political purposes, on the part of the US, is well known. As is its policy of sanctions against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which is only harming the people of Venezuela.
All of which renders my detention arbitrary and unlawful. Yes, it is clear, and this can be seen from the moment the false accusations against me begin, that what they are trying to do is to attack President Maduro and his government.
President Trump’s administration had an obsession with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its governing bodies, especially President Maduro, and throughout his time in office his regime used all the mechanisms at its disposal to annihilate it. I am a mere instrument or means to reach that true end.
I only hope, that President Biden will be able to mend what the Trump regime shattered, especially if he wants to demonstrate that his way of doing politics is different and that he truly respects the separation of powers and the rule of law.
Your lawyers have said that the process against you is full of irregularities. What are the main ones?
Alex Saab: Where to start?
I stress once again it is precise because of the political nature of the allegations against me which have resulted in the irregularities from the time of my unlawful detention to today. Watching the machinations of the Cape Verdean authorities as they have tried to justify their illegal behaviour has been extraordinary. A country which claims to be the bastion of African democracy has shown it to be nothing more than a very thin veneer of clichés.
As one of my lawyers Baltasar Garzón says, by the theory of the “poisoned tree”, a process that starts with illegal detention is illegal in itself.
When I was I unlawfully arrested on 12 June 2020 I was on my way to Tehran and only landed in Cape Verde for the purpose of a technical refuelling stop. I was clearly expected and was arrested on the basis of an INTERPOL Red Notice which didn’t exist and nor was there an arrest warrant either from the United States or Cape Verde. The Red Notice was made-to-measure at the request of the United States and only produced after my arrest and that too on the day after my arrest on 13 June 2020. An order that Interpol should have cancelled 4 days later because of the illegality that my lawyers immediately demonstrated.
Under customary centuries-old international law, if Cape Verde did not wish to recognise my status it should have declared me persona non grata and told me to continue my journey. Instead, Cape Verde deliberately and calculatedly, at the request of the United States, chose to embroil itself in a very politically motivated process without thinking of the consequences. I was detained without an Interpol warrant and without a U.S. warrant for about 25 days until the U.S. sent a diplomatic request to detain me.
To be absolutely clear, I carried with me the documents that irrefutably demonstrated by status as a Special Envoy and the nature of my mission. Furthermore, both Venezuela and Iran sent letters protesting my detention and stressing my diplomatic immunity immediately upon learning of my illegal detention.
Therefore, my rights as a diplomat were not respected. The evidence was concealed and the first judge on the island of Sal did not “see” it.
From then on, the irregularities have mounted up and followed one after the other in what my lawyers have come to call an unprecedented judicial process in which practically none of their arguments have been heard by the Cape Verdean courts.
Fortunately, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has risen above the fog of Cape Verdean misinformation and recognised my immunity and inviolability. Even as Cape Verde continues to refuse to comply with the order of the ECOWAS Court, I know that international law is on my side.
As one of my lawyers, Dr Rutsel Martha former Head of Legal Affairs of INTERPOL explains INTERPOL’s own rules require that Cape Verde should have abstained from detaining me because of my status as a Special Envoy. INTERPOL withdrew the made-to-measure Red Notice as soon as they were made aware by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that I was a Special Envoy on a humanitarian Special Mission.
You have been linked to Iran, Turkey and Russia and it has been claimed that your actions would “impact the security of the hemisphere”. To what do you attribute this designation?
Alex Saab: These statements are based on the imperialist view of the world of The United States, in which the world continues to be divided into “good guys and bad guys, us and them”. The US needs to stop seeing ghosts everywhere. Its discourse may serve to manipulate its citizens, but it is hollow and lacking substance. My relations with these countries are not framed within any absurd conspiracy theory but, as I stated earlier, are built upon symbiotic needs in the context of a common aggressor.
Venezuela is a sovereign state which has a right to conduct its affairs as it itself decides and with whomsoever it wishes. This right is further protected under the UN Charter which prohibits the interference of the domestic affairs of a sovereign state by another. When I last looked the United States is still a signatory to the UN Charter.
Do you consider that Cape Verde acted under U.S. pressure in detaining you and not allowing your immunity to be respected?
Alex Saab: Yes of course it did. Moreover, it did so without the existence of an INTERPOL Red Notice against me, as I have already mentioned. There is no other explanation since international law is clear regarding my right of inviolability and immunity as a diplomatic agent.
You denounced in a letter addressed to Trump the inhuman conditions in which you were being held, in addition to the issue of your delicate state of health. Why did the measure of house arrest take so long?
Alex Saab: I believe that I have been subjected to physical and psychological torture. The shameful way in which my house arrest was handled is inexcusable.
After refusing to grant me access to house arrest for 7 months and disobeying the order of 2 December 2020 of the ECOWAS Court, the Attorney General of Cape Verde quietly, without warning to my defence team, filed a motion on 20 January and received approval to release me to house arrest on 21 January. I say cynically, because this just happened to coincide with the ECOWAS Council of Ministers meeting of the same date and just ahead of the ECOWAS Heads of State Summit on 23 January. Cape Verde sent a copy of the ruling of its own court to the Council of Ministers meeting on 21 January like a child with an unexpectedly good school report, who despite the worst fears of his parents confounds them with a B instead of an F grade.
A house arrest outside the law, in which I am still not allowed to have access to my doctors and my team of lawyers. I am not allowed to communicate freely, write letters, cell phone, family visits, nothing, it is the same as prison or worse, a complete farce. I am in a house surrounded by more than 50 armed army and police officers who control even my food.
It is exactly the same or worse than prison conditions with the permanent psychological pressure I am exposed to. I can’t even go out in the courtyard of my house without a drone filming me from the sky even when I am with my local lawyers. Armed men in the courtyard of my house. What kind of house arrest is this? A farce
To be blunt, Cape Verde granted me house arrest to cynically head off any discussion about it disrespecting the ECOWAS Court.
Finally, I have been kept in prison conditions which the US State Department itself has described as “life-threatening”. Drug traffickers are treated better than I, as a diplomatic agent, have been.
There are signs everywhere of the work of a third party whose name like a scene out of Harry Potter “cannot be mentioned” presumably all in an attempt to break my resolve and turn me against President Maduro and his government. I will never do this because neither I nor the Bolivarian Republic has done anything wrong.
Venezuela has the right to manage the welfare of its people and no amount of political designations through self-serving sanctions or bullying will cause it to divert from this course.
Now that the deadline for your provisional arrest with a view to extradition has expired, what are your expectations of the process?
Alex Saab: I will never give up hope that everything will be resolved. I know I have right on my side and my legal has built a very strong defence the quality and strength of which will have surprised many, including the Cape Verdean political and legal system and those who push it from the shadows. What we are showing the world is that if you are not afraid, if you have belief and right on your side, if you stay focused, you will prevail. Sooner or later, this tremendous persecution will be unveiled and all the tricks that are being used against me will become evident.
In light of the letter you sent to Trump, published by the press, what do you expect from the Biden Administration regarding your case?
Alex Saab: I expect, as I said before, that he will show that it is true that he respects the rule of law. His mandate begins just after Trump sponsored an attempted coup d’état in his country. Quite symbolic, of course. Biden has the opportunity to change Trump’s bad arts, to put his head on everything regarding his foreign policy, to recover the separation of powers, in short, to overcome the ghosts of the past.
Your defence says that you are “a means to reach a more important end”, which is the Government of Nicolás Maduro. How do you explain this statement?
Alex Saab: As I have already said, my diplomatic appointments and recognition by President Maduro makes his enemies think that I could be a conduit to help defeat him.
Here we are not only talking about Alex Saab, the whole process of baseless allegations in the United States through to my arrest in Cape Verde and the physical and psychological torture to which I have been subjected all are politically motivated. Politically motivated extraterritorial judicial overreach. Nothing more, nothing less, to overthrow President Maduro and force Venezuela to its knees.
What would be, for you, the best and the worst scenario for the resolution of your case? What weight do you attribute to the “media circus” that has surrounded your detention?
Alex Saab: Firstly, that Cape Verde shows that it truly is the bastion of the rule of law which it claims to be and recognises my immunity and inviolability and immediately release me to continue my Special Mission. Secondly, I shall continue to rebut all the baseless allegations that have been made against me by discredited hired witnesses in the United States.
As for the media circus that surrounds my case, this is a fact of the social media, instant gratification, 24 hours news cycle world we live in. Fighting it only provides the tabloid-trash and pseudo-news sites with the oxygen of publicity which they crave. I shall continue to place my faith in the Almighty and trust that He will ensure I come though this nightmare is bloodied but unbowed.